MARYLAND DAYS : Nothing paltry about poultry's Hall of Fame

Beltsville: where self-respecting chicken men come to worship

Beltsville - If you've made your living out of chickens, this is the place to end your days. After all, who really envies Don Tyson down in Arkansas, presiding over a processing empire with turnover matching the GNP of a fair-sized developing country, but vulnerable to every Clinton- related scandal on the market?

Here in the Federal Agricultural Library in the Washington suburbs, a quiet second-floor corridor offers lasting dignity and repose. The walls are adorned with modest brass plaques. They number 30 or so, and bear the names and portraits of such luminaries as Jesse Jewell (1893-1975), the "father of the modern chicken- meat industry", or William Billings (1888-1970), inventor of the Minnesota plan of turkey production and founder, owner and editor of a newsletter, Talking Turkey. By now you may have guessed what I am on about: Welcome to the Poultry Industry Hall of Fame.

What is it about Halls of Fame that bewitches Americans? This week brings the opening of the most expensive of them all, a $92m (pounds 59m) temple in Cleveland to the titans of Rock 'n' Roll. But in spirit it does not differ from a myriad others scattered from Malibu to Maine. Wherever you turn, you'll find one. Leave Miami on Route 1 North and almost at once on your right is the American Police Hall of Fame. In Leadville, Colorado, you will find the National Mining Hall of Fame, while the jewel of the town of Hereford in Texas is the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. At Chicago's Industry and Science Museum, I once visited the National Business Hall of Fame (a dreary place indeed, it must be said.) There is a National Kitchen and Bath Association Hall of Fame (based, alas, I know not where). The one time I was in Idaho's fair capital of Boise, I missed the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, "honouring", as they say in Hall of Fame parlance, the good deeds of millionaire professional athletes.

California predictably boasts some fine specimens - among them the Barbie Doll Hall of Fame in Palo Alto (16,000 models of the plastic bombshell worth an estimated $2m), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (pop music to you and me) Hall of Fame in Santa Monica, and even a Burlesque Hall of Fame, reportedly run by a retired showgirl and consisting of three trailer trucks parked in the Mojave desert. Radio and Country Music each have their Halls of Fame. Should you find yourself in Polson, Montana, spend those spare moments in the Montana Fiddlers Hall of Fame.

And so it goes on: hundreds, probably thousands, of such institutions across America, commemorating anything from the feats of an obscure high- school football team to the greatest entertainers in history, all with the common purpose of hyping the 15 minutes allotted by Andy Warhol into eternal celebrity.

For some reason though, nowhere beats Ohio in the Hall of Fame stakes . Yes, the state is a cross-section of America, whose very number-plates proclaim it to be "The Heart Of It All". But that does not explain why Cleveland should be home to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame - a ravishing steel-and- glass temple "more Bach than Bruce Springsteen", according to a cerebral reviewer in the Washington Post, rearing alongside a purpose- built lake and designed by the same I M. Pei who built the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. And why should Akron, once home of the great tyre companies who made it "the rubber capital of the world", have put up a $38m National Inventors Hall of Fame?

Throw in nearby Canton with its Professional Football Hall of Fame (from which someone recently stole the bronze bust of a certain Orenthal James Simpson) and a vacuum-cleaner museum (dubbed inevitably the Hoover Hall of Fame), and small wonder Ohio travel agents are offering Hall of Fame package tours for those of eclectic tastes. And that's not all. Apart from the Rock 'n' Roll museum, Cleveland offers more whimsical attractions, such as the Shuffleboard Hall of Fame, even the "Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame" at the Civic Centre in suburban Euclid.

But where Halls of Fame are concerned, money is not all. To see the Hall to end all Halls, you must leave Ohio. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is to be found at Cooperstown in upstate New York, where a smirk is as out of place as a striptease show in a cathedral. And a cathedral is precisely what Cooperstown is. Here entrants are not "inducted" as in other self- respecting Halls of Fame but "enshrined," in a ceremony which makes headlines every summer.

Worshippers come by the hundreds of thousands each year, walking through hushed and softly lit chambers, and contemplating Joe DiMaggio's uniform as pilgrims might gaze upon the Holy Shroud of Turin. But then again, isn't that what a self-respecting chicken-man does in the little corridor in Beltsville?

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